Another person has come forward with details of alleged “emotionally abusive” behaviour towards her from Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler.
The woman, who asked to use the pseudonym Sabina in her comments to Pitchfork, has detailed what she described as emotionally manipulative behaviour during a three-year sexual relationship she claims to have had with the singer.
In an investigation by the US music website earlier this year (August 28), four people – who were between 18 and 23-years-old at the time of the alleged interactions between 2015 and 2020 and asked to use pseudonyms when sharing their stories – accused Butler of “inappropriate” actions.
In a lengthy response statement, Butler said at the time that he was “very sorry to anyone who I have hurt with my behaviour” but that “these relationships were all consensual”.
Now, also speaking to Pitchfork, Sabina described her relationship with Butler as “an ongoing abusive relationship,” adding: “Emotionally abusive, manipulative, toxic, and using his power dynamic to exploit my body at times that were convenient for him. He met me when I was so vulnerable.”
Sabina said that she met Butler in the summer of 2015, when she was a 22-year-old student and he was 35. “When I first moved to Montreal, I literally had $40 in my bank account,” she said, adding that she didn’t initially recognise Butler until a co-worker at her waitressing job identified him.
After discussing the medieval poet Dante, Butler later reportedly offered Sabina a guestlist spot at a dance party he was hosting in September 2015, which she attended with her boyfriend. Sabina said that she and Butler stayed in touch afterwards. “He knew I had a boyfriend and didn’t care,” she said. “He would reference my boyfriend and be like, ‘Have you broken up yet?’”
After inviting her out for a drink, Sabina said that she and Butler eventually kissed, an experience she recalled as “jarring” in a diary entry reportedly viewed by Pitchfork. “We were sitting and talking about probably Simone de Beauvoir or something, and I remember being alarmed that it had progressed to kissing,” she said, adding that she left abruptly.
Sabina also claimed that in September 2015, she and Butler had sex for the first of several times at his Montreal studio. The pair reportedly continued texting, which Sabina said frequently involved Butler steering the conversation towards sex and asking for photos.
In spring 2016, Sabina and her boyfriend broke up she said, while her diary entries are said to have indicated concern that Butler saw her as “just a body”.
“I don’t want to talk too much about the sex itself because there were so many instances of it,” Sabina said. “In general, it was an abusive dynamic. It was really aggressive and I felt like I just had to do what he said. I was not really comfortable with some of the things he was asking me to do, but doing them anyway. And that is ultimately dehumanising.”
Sabina said she believed Butler would characterise the sex as consensual because she did not refuse or say no during the encounters, but felt that the combination of the aggressive nature of the sexual encounters and the imbalance of age and power dynamics meant it felt unhealthy.
“Now, at [the university], they have consent courses,” she said. “I think he genuinely wouldn’t know if something was consensual or not.”
Despite her hope to have more in-person discussions about literature and art, Sabina said she felt Butler was primarily interested in sex, particularly during text conversations. “It was just being available for sex in any form, whether that was in person when he was in town, whether it was photos, and to engage in sexting when he wanted it to happen,” she said.
“There was an urgency to his needs that didn’t account for my needs or what was going on in my life or my situation or my whereabouts. When he wanted sex, it was expected that I would be up and ready for it, because it was so nice of him to make time for it or something.”
She added that Butler “would make you feel so bad about it” if the request was not met and alleged that he would say,”You’re being cut off from contact if you don’t agree to sexual favours.”
According to Sabina, her and Butler’s sexual relationship continued on and off until June 2018. Pitchfork reports having seen texts during this time that apparently show Butler repeatedly pressing her to live alone so they could have sex more easily.
The Pitchfork investigation goes onto detail further text messages and reports from Sabina accusing Butler of frequently pushing for sex and ignoring requests for a more emotional relationship.
Eventually, on August 30 that year, it is said that Sabina sent Butler a long message telling him that he was starting to make her feel like she was “not even a person.” After exchanging a number of messages, Sabina was reportedly sent two photos reviewed by Pitchfork, including one that appeared to show Butler “masturbating in graphic detail” while continuing to text throughout the night.
Sabina said she “burst into tears” after receiving the photographs, saying she “hadn’t asked for it at all” and added: “It just felt really, really disrespectful and scary and gross… It felt like that specific encounter was crossing a line that he shouldn’t have crossed and it was shocking. I really feel like he has more to apologise for. He never took accountability for that.”
Sabina said she and Butler saw each other a few more times in 2018, which she now regrets.
“The last time we had sex was because I finally lived alone,” she said. “I remember being like, ‘Well, I have to have sex with him, because he always wanted me to live alone and now I did it, so it seems like a waste not to do it.’ Which is so fucked up. That final time didn’t feel good and I didn’t feel any kind of connection to him. That was definitely the moment where I was over it.”
Sabina said she regretted not cutting things off with Butler after receiving the explicit photographs. “If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship it makes you feel better to tell yourself that this was all for something, that their outbursts were mistakes and that you meant something to the abuser, that you still hold value in their eyes,” she said.
“But the only value I ever held for him was performing sexual acts whenever he wanted.”
NME has reached out to representatives for Butler and Arcade Fire for a response to the allegations.
Representatives reportedly did not provide an on-the-record response to Pitchfork’s requests for comment on Sabina’s allegations prior to deadline for this story.
The previous allegations levelled against Butler earlier this year saw support act Feist drop out of their European shows.
For help, advice or more information regarding sexual harassment, assault and rape in the UK, visit the Rape Crisis charity website. In the US, visit RAINN.
For help and advice on mental health:
- CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably
- Help Musicians UK – Around the clock mental health support and advice for musicians (CALL MUSIC MINDS MATTER ON: 0808 802 8008)
- Music Support Org – Help and support for musicians struggling with alcoholism, addiction, or mental health issues (CALL: 0800 030 6789)
- YOUNG MINDS – The voice for young people’s health and wellbeing
- Time To Change – Let’s end mental health discrimination
- The Samaritans – Confidential support 24 hours a day